Plant More Violets

Violets. Some are quite common whereas others are quite rare. Either way, the genus Viola holds considerable cultural significance around the world. Here in North America, the common blue violet (Viola sororia – is a common denizen of lawns. It will often flower long before any mowing begins. Other violet species abound in woodlands while some of the more rare species specialize in dry, sandy habitats. Either way, violets are an important group of plants ecologically. Their flowers produce nectar that bees, especially species that are awake early in the spring, find irresistible. A dense patch of violets take on a droning, buzzing din as countless bees fly from flower to flower. Despite the common name, violets come in many colors. Take the smooth yellow violet (Viola pubescens var. eriocarpa – for example. As its name suggests, the flowers are yellow. Others like the sweet white violet (Viola blanda – and the cream violet (Viola striata – have white flowers. Getting seeds from violets can be quite a challenge. After flowering, violets produce 3-chambered seed capsules. As the capsules begin to dry they split open and begin pinching the seeds within. As the capsules pinch harder and harder the seeds are ejected away from the plant, sometimes meters away! This form of seed dispersal is termed “ballistic.” Some species attach fatty, oily caps to their seeds called elaiosomes. These are meant to attract the attention of scavenging ants. The ants take the seeds back to their nest and consume the capsule. They then discard the seeds in their trash heaps where they now have a safe, nutrient-rich place to germinate. As summer winds down, violets begin to produce another type of flower. Referred to as a cleistogamous, these flowers never open and instead self-fertilize. This is a survival strategy for the violets. These flowers take considerably less energy to produce and the resulting offspring are genetically identical to the parent, which can be useful if the parent is growing in harsh conditions. Sadly, some people do what they can to get rid of violets. Those who want lawns full of nothing but grass will do what they can to get rid of anything flower related. This is a crying shame as violets are not only good for pollinators but they are also important food sources for many butterfly and moth larvae. Leave violets to grow in peace. If you have some space in your garden or around your property, consider picking up some seed from a few different species. In a few season when you have large patches of different colored violets all in flower you will be happy you did!


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